NY: PublicAffairs, 2007.
The author displays a winning combination of erudition, wit, and journalistic skill in considering the nature of the contemporary British royal family and its ability to survive, with occasional comparisons to earlier generations (especially the Stewarts) and to other European royalty.
Each chapter revolves around one aspect of what it means to be royal, including choosing the right parents (personal talents have absolutely nothing to do with it), marriage and production of an heir (continuing the line is the first duty, always), learning how to be “royal” (and how to deal with the boredom that comes with extremely restricted freedom of movement), the monarch and religion (a special and rather subtle case in Great Britain), the special relationship of the monarch to the military (with some very astute psychological parallels between the two institutions), and the strange identification between the sovereign and the people (much stronger at the lower levels of society than at the higher). Other chapters deal with Edward VIII and the abdication crisis, and why it was a peculiarly British situation, and with the family’s prospects for the future. Even though Britain is a parliamentary democracy, and the sovereign has no authority whatever, and even though the notion of royalty offends the very foundations of democracy, there is almost no popular support for a British republic. In fact, republicanism in Britain is regarded as a “harmless hobby.” Paxman manages not to drift too far into gossip, except when anecdotes are germane, even in his judgments of the Prince of Wales and the late Princess Diana, neither of whom he was much impressed by. For that matter, he points out that the problematic intellectual level of the House of Windsor, from Edward VIII on, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.